Ham radio operators practice for emergencies

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  • Charles H. Featherstone/Columbia Basin Herald Roger Chamberlain shows Scout First Class Chance Morris how to work his amateur radio on Saturday as part of the Central Washington Amateur Radio Club’s field day exercise north of Soap Lake.

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    Charles H. Featherstone/Columbia Basin Herald Roger Chamberlain shows Scout First Class Chance Morris how to work his amateur radio on Saturday as part of the Central Washington Amateur Radio Club’s field day exercise north of Soap Lake.

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    Charles H. Featherstone/Columbia Basin Herald Mike Buettner shows Scout First Class Chance Morris how to work his amateur radio on Saturday as part of the Central Washington Amateur Radio Club’s field day exercise north of Soap Lake.

  • Charles H. Featherstone/Columbia Basin Herald Roger Chamberlain shows Scout First Class Chance Morris how to work his amateur radio on Saturday as part of the Central Washington Amateur Radio Club’s field day exercise north of Soap Lake.

  • 1

    Charles H. Featherstone/Columbia Basin Herald Roger Chamberlain shows Scout First Class Chance Morris how to work his amateur radio on Saturday as part of the Central Washington Amateur Radio Club’s field day exercise north of Soap Lake.

  • 2

    Charles H. Featherstone/Columbia Basin Herald Mike Buettner shows Scout First Class Chance Morris how to work his amateur radio on Saturday as part of the Central Washington Amateur Radio Club’s field day exercise north of Soap Lake.

SOAP LAKE — The voice coming through the radio speaker was clear and bright despite being in Alameda, California.

“November Six Hotel calling CQ field day, CQ field day, November Six Hotel listing.”

Roger Chamberlain (call sign KJ7V) scribbles something on a pad, picks up a microphone, and presses a button.

“This is Whiskey Seven Tango Tango,” he said.

“Tango Tango, stand by,” the voice on the radio says. “Whiskey Six Bravo Alpha India, please copy Three Alpha Echo Bravo, over.”

Chamberlain, an amateur radio enthusiast for much of his life, sits waiting in front of a portable radio in a tent north of Soap Lake. He’s one of a dozen or so members of the Central Washington Amateur Radio Club who are out here at the Boy Scout Camp with poor to non-existent cell phone service practicing their radio skills.

And trying to contact as many other amateur radio operators — or “hams” — as they can.

It was all part of Field Day 2019, an annual exercise staged by ham enthusiasts across the country on the fourth weekend in June. Individuals or radio clubs are expected to set up someplace relatively remote and then operate for 24 hours continuously on whatever portable power they have at hand.

“We’re running on a battery and a generator,” Chamberlain said. “Some people run on a battery and solar panel.”

“The concept is for clubs and individuals to go outdoors, to go remote, and operate their radios,” said Mike Buettner (call sign K7STO). “It originally wasn’t a contest, but it has evolved that way.”

Chamberlain, a retired insurance agent and recruiter for Washington State University, said the exercise helps ham radio operators prepare to communicate in emergencies, such as search and rescue operations or forest and brush fires, or major disasters when Internet and phone service fail across a wide area.

“I’ve never done anything in an emergency,” Chamberlain said. “The last thing, which was a long time ago, was the eruption of Mt. St. Helens. When that went, the phone lines were jammed across the state. You couldn’t get through on a phone, not anywhere.”

So the ham operators practice these skills just in case.

“Radio always gets through,” Chamberlain added.

Buettner said that while the club managed to make contact with somewhere between 110 and 120 other broadcasters, high winds Saturday night forced them to take down their tent and stop broadcasting for a time, and then pack it up earlier than scheduled Sunday morning.

“High winds destroyed our canopy, and we called it quits around 9 a.m.,” he said.

But it didn’t stop them from making contact.

“I copy, One Alpha Echo Whiskey Alpha, please copy Three Alpha Echo Bravo,” said the radio voice from California on Saturday afternoon, using terms that identify the location as well as the nature and number of all those conversing at that moment.

“QSL,” Chamberlain replied in radio language that acknowledges receipt of a message. “Good luck on that contest.”

Charles H. Featherstone can be reached at cfeatherstone@columbiabasinherald.com.

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